Labour leader brands Living with Covid plan ‘laughable’

Kelly accused of populism after noting arrival of 2,000 Brazilians during 5km restriction

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accused Alan Kelly of being "populist and wrong" after the Labour leader dismissed the Government’s revised Living with Covid strategy as "laughable." Video: Oireachtas TV

 

There were sharp exchanges in the Dáil when Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused Labour leader Alan Kelly of being “populist and wrong” after he claimed the Government’s revised Living with Covid strategy is “laughable”.

Mr Kelly had highlighted the arrival of 2,000 people from Brazil in the past month when the population was being told it could not travel more than 5km from home.

But the Taoiseach told him it was wrong and “a bit populist” when many of the 2,000 arriving in Ireland “are Irish and many could be Irish residents. I don’t know the exact make-up of the 2,000, but there’s a Brazilian community in Ireland and for quite some time. I think you should reflect on that” he told Mr Kelly. “People leave and come back in.”

The row took place in advance of the Dáil debate later today on legislation to introduced mandatary hotel quarantine for passengers arriving from 20 countries with high virus-transmission rates.

Mr Kelly renewed an Opposition cross-party call for the quarantine to apply to all arrivals into the Republic. He described the Government’s proposals in its Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Path Ahead document, launched on Tuesday, as “laughable”.

The Labour leader said “it is anything but a path ahead. Regrettably, it is a hope-and-see strategy”. He added that there were no details about metrics that needed to be in place on the reduced level of coronavirus cases required for lifting restrictions

He said the Government’s entire strategy relied on vaccination, but many suggestions about its rollout had not been acted upon.

“There is nothing new in it that we did not know about. It is basically a wing and a prayer; it is totally reliant on vaccines.”

Mr Kelly said “there is nothing there to give people hope”.

He said there are no new tools to suppress the virus. “It’s just a wait for the vaccines. And the reason why is because you don’t have confidence that you will be able to keep the variants out,” he added, including the UK variant and now a Californian variant of Covid-19.

“They all need analysis . . . and the public health teams simply are not resourced enough.”

He also called for a survey of why so many businesses were sending so many people back to their place of work.

Martin replies

But the Taoiseach said that the way to suppress the virus had not changed, including social distancing and avoiding congregating. That was what suppressed the virus, he added.

“We should be driven by data, not dates,” he said, claiming that Mr Kelly changed his position on the issue “every single month”.

He said vaccination was working and reducing infection among frontline healthcare workers in hospital settings.

“We are one of the few countries that targeted that area in terms of the vaccine programme and it is working. It’s having a real impact and it will have an impact on older people and those who are most vulnerable.”

Pointing to the quarantine legislation the Taoiseach said “it will give the Minister [for Health] the authority to add designated countries as recommended” by the public health authorities.